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Eat a stick of butter

That got your attention didn’t it? A dear friend of mine used that phrase when I was feeling grumpy one day. The first piece of advice was to get my ass in the kitchen and bake some cookies. I did and it helped. The follow up was “bake a loaf of bread, eat a stick of butter, and scrub the floors by hand. That last bit will be undertaken on Friday morning; Saber bought me some Murphy’s Oil Soap and scrub I will!

There’s two important points to the advice, even if they weren’t intended in this way. First, the absurdity of eating a stick of butter tends to grab your attention. I mean really, it’s just weird isn’t it? Nobody does that. Totally left field. This is an example of the Turn the Mind skill from DBT, although the imagery turns it for you. The second reveals another skill, that of Participate, or Enter into the Experience. DO so One-Mindfully or with full attention. Eat an apple (much more appealing than a stick of butter!) It is a full sensory experience. There is the feel of the apple in your hand and the sensation of biting it. The smell and taste are bound together and there is often a satisfying crunch. And you see where you have eaten it and move it around as you go. All the senses are engaged!

We call this an Eating Mindfulness; we can turn our full attention to what is at hand, namely an apple (or a stick of butter if you’re so inclined.) I often do this in my classes with cookies. They too engage all our senses and are especially yummy. I mean I like apples but a chocolate chip cookie… 🙂

So take my friend’s advice as I did and get busy paying attention! It’ll make your mouth happy and offer you a brief and very pleasant experience that may just make your day a wee bit better. And say thanks to Rebecca for her wisdom.

How are you?

An innocuous question, one that is asked every Sunday (lol!) at churches across America, and it is usually answered with “I’m fine.” Which is no answer at all but is accepted, usually in the same spirit in which it was asked – which is shallow and really disinterested.

My dear friend Zane asked me, the last time I saw her, “Are you happy?” And she meant the question with real depth and sincerity. That’s one of the reasons she is my friend. My answer was sincere and vulnerable and didn’t have to become a litany of my woes. It opened up opportunity for discussion of either the positives or otherwise as she perceived them to be appropriate.

I have been reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance and that question shows up. It prompts me to consider both the intention behind asking the question in a meaningful way – wanting to know the other person with greater depth – but also offering an opportunity to the other to answer as they can, to perhaps go into real vulnerability. I think about those who matter most to me and asking that question, hoping for an answer with depth. That hope is predicated on my relationship with them, how much I love them in the way that I do, and wanting to know them better.

Part of the problem may be that people don’t know how to answer the question, or aren’t able to as they are not used to even asking themselves the question. So many go through life with “I’m fine” as their internal default, all the while knowing otherwise (as evidenced by their internal dialogue.)

Now I pose the question to you dear reader: How are you?

Homesick

Today I had this weird feeling. It was a queasiness in my stomach, an ache in my spirit. When I was teaching we were discussing the Observe and Describe skills where we observe feelings, body sensations, and then put the most accurate words to them. As I am wont to do I used my current state as an example, and struggled to find the right words to describe this feeling. My student said “you’re homesick.” And dang if that wasn’t exactly it! What prompted this was my (again) missing my friend but today it was louder than usual, more present. So I thought about homesick and why it was so perfect an expression.

When I think about my friend there is a sense of a very deep connection. There is a similar feeling when I look at the picture of K2. Both prompt very similar feelings. Weird, right? I see her picture and K2 and it’s so nearly the same: a sense on the deepest level of “home.”

I am told I think too much (to which I respond “that’s what I do!) so there is very fertile soil in this odd sensibility of home. We’ll see… What is it about these two disparate things that resonates so deeply in me?

I also used something she said to me in response to a recent whine and I used it with my student. First I was told to get my ass in the kitchen and bake cookies. So I did and of course it worked. Then she said “bake some bread, eat a stick of butter, and scrub the floor by hand.” To illustrate the Turning the Mind skill I mentioned “eat a stick of butter” and that did the trick. My student’s mind turned from her sorrows with DFCS and her kids to the absurdity of eating a stick of butter.

I then noticed an urge to tell my friend how helpful her silliness had been. The idea was to validate her and so feel good about herself. But then I thought about it and recognized that what I really wanted was to prompt a response from her. And that I did not like. That childish emotional mind need corrupted the value of her words and me validating them. I felt sick.

But then further down the rabbit hole I found that I didn’t need a response, that the value needn’t be corrupted. So I texted her and told the whole story, including the “need” for a response. I honored the value of her words and how helpful they were to someone she would never meet. And I left it at that.

It is the attachment to some outcome dictated by our childishness that we have to beware of, that corrupting influence that so easily infects the valuable aspects of ourselves.

Today (several days after the initial post) I am noticing again the homesickness and I think further about what “home” is, where, who and what. Maybe why, I dunno. Why may be a bridge too far.

I have always had this deep connection to the Colorado Rockies. Different places but the same sense of connection, of “home.” But I am not there, nor am I with my friend. But I am, in my heart, in my soul. And that has to be good enough otherwise my childish emotional mind starts up with “need.” Ugh. Gratitude helps recognize what is and ask “is there Home to be found here, now?” I turn towards gratitude and find connection with what is, and it is up to me to look for the deeper aspects of these connections, to ascribe Home to them too, and thus to experience contentment.

On being of the Fae

I used to spell it Fey but it is more accurately spelled Fae, as in Faeirie. No, I’m not a “fairy”; it is more a state of mind or confluence of personality quirks that creates the Fae. There is a sense of whimsy of course. There is also a child-like sense of wonder about all things. And an innocence born of the fertile soil of disorder. Attachment disorder, mild Asperger’s, dysthymia, a twist of intelligence, and trauma. These elements created an incredible selfishness but a mindless one (otherwise I’d be a sociopath.) They are expressed in a near-complete lack of ambition and a poor sense of how I am viewed by others.

But the Fae know this and rejoice in becoming the best version of themselves. We embrace our weirdness – we have to. As with all patterns of the mind we can turn towards those thoughts, judgments and emotions that foment chaos or we can turn otherwise to the patterns of the Fae: whimsy, delight, wonder, innocence.

I look at a picture of the north ridge of K2 and I experience what I can only describe as joy. I will never set foot on that mountain or see the north ridge, but I can trek to basecamp and experience in person the awesomeness that is this magical (and deadly) mountain. I may do that… We’ll see 🙂

K2 North Pillar (8611m). That traverse looks terrifying. Wish I could climb  this. | Beautiful landscapes, Beautiful places, Mountain landscape
Beautiful
K2: Arrived at K2 Base Camp - Joe Ashkar
This is what I long to see in person

To the Fae mind these images prompt a soul-level emotional response, one of awe and wonder, even joy. The Fae suffer more than most, being attuned empathetically to the sorrows of the world, but we are not controlled by these sorrows. In fact, they add to who and what we are. Where there is sorrow we respond with love, where there is evil we respond with love, and where there is suffering we respond with love. Love is the hallmark of the Fae. Love is the distillation of whimsy, wonder, awe, joy and yes, sorrow.

I don’t think that one can aspire to be of the Fae, it is that we are born this way but must discover it within ourselves. The qualities we possess can certainly be developed (well, mostly) and it is a worthwhile journey. You will be judged as “weird” and so what?! The judgments of others leave me unconcerned and they are the business of those doing the judging anyway. Who and what I am, and how I walk the path set before me by God is all I am concerned with. I look for the blessing and (hopefully) learn, and then pass on the blessing or lesson. That’s all I can do.

Being of the Fae requires intention and effort. It demands losing attachments to outcomes, as they create filters to our authenticity. Attachments are expressions of self and of need. The Fae have no need; we can want one thing or another but always default to “we’ll see!” I’m not there yet as I still struggle with certain attachments and “need.” But I recognize them and may soon understand them and by definition I will then be free of them. Understanding brings authority and authority creates freedom.

Where are the Men (and Women)?!

Once again a continuation of a previous post, or at least an extension of a thought. A good percentage of the people I work with are chronological adults but emotional children. And sadly the more I look around the more I see this in the greater community, even our nation. People are devolving into emotional adolescence. The immediacy of the news cycle – whatever that is nowadays – leads to both intellectual and emotional confusion, and without an ingrained moral compass we lose our way. Social media, while being a boon for those isolated and alone, has evolved (devolved?) into a false reality and thus our pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to information grows distorted and the echo chamber of our mind resonates with this distortion.

One of my favorite websites is The Art of Manliness. It was started as a blog on manly virtues and skills but evolved (correct word!) into a treasure trove of skills and philosophical dissertations on virtues and ideas. It is very well written. So rather than paraphrase and even steal without proper attribution I present instead the actual article. Why gild the lily?

What our nations and communities need now more than ever are men and women with “chests.” And it is up to us, this current generation, to learn and pass this on. You can’t teach what you don’t know, so please take the time to read the article, consider your own pattern, and act accordingly.

Https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/men-without-chests

No one teaches this anymore. Why? Because they weren’t taught. And some things can’t be taught, they must be experienced. The “Greatest Generation” failed to teach their children the most important lesson of all, that of delayed gratification. They did great things, built greatness, but they were able to because they knew lack, they experienced deprivation and it made them strong. Tough. That toughness can’t be taught. It is gained through trial, and they wanted us to not know those trials and thus deprived their children of the lessons. Now, when the going gets tough there are few tough to get going. We are a society of whiners, of weaklings, of Wainrights. The cultural Childish Emotional Mind is ascendant and those few who are tough, who are actually adults are now vilified and labeled as “bad.” Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? Depends on your perspective. And the cultural narrative is turning towards the former, not knowing even what freedom is.

We have perpetuated and deepened the culture of Wainright by not allowing for failure, for inadequacy. We hand out participation trophies, and the competent, skilled and even brilliant do it themselves rather than teach and allow real learning through failure.

And once again, Brett McKay has posted more eloquently than I:

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-anti-crisis-crisis/

Comfortably uncomfortable

As an extension to my last couple of posts, those words have been used more than once recently so I’m paying attention to them.

One of my former students, as her “graduation statement” said this: “I’ve learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable so I can be comfortable later.” And last night in class a student said, “Radical Openness is about learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” And this morning in a meeting I found this to be true too. My friends and I are in positions of authority yet we are terribly uncomfortable with it; we aren’t natural leaders and are really struggling with the very present need to lead. So how can we become comfortable with this? It is necessary in order to be effective.

Once again Radical Acceptance is valuable; things cannot be any other way than how they are, and I (we) can struggle against what is or turn towards it and look for what is helpful and wanted (much like my birthday cake debacle.) What can be learned from the discomfort? If I can find value in being uncomfortable then I will be less so.

Checking the facts helps separate the fact from the fiction, the truth from the propaganda, and generally eases the discomfort to some degree. It’s a good start, seeing as best we can the B.S. that is feeding the discomfort. At the same time becoming more aware of what really is and those areas of opportunity for learning and growth. We have to turn down the volume of the noise of “uncomfortable” in order to see it for what it is: opportunity.

Simple, not easy

A couple of recent conversations prompted this post. Both revolved around, basically, overthinking. We tend to make things so complicated and difficult when in reality they aren’t – they’re quite simple. But there is a difference between simple and easy, just as there is a difference between attention and awareness.

Most people have not read Albert Einstein’s book on relativity. I have (duh, and here’s a link to it: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Realtivity_the_Special_and_General_Theor/HnpjKHdCJToC?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcover) but don’t jump to the conclusion that I understood it. Of course not… But, I was able to see how Einstein created a remarkable understanding from something incredibly simple. E=mc2 is so utterly simple but it is the result of many many pages of complex mathematics. He starts with a simple separation of reference points (simplified for my purposes) of K and K prime (K’) and then goes into all the math to make his points, ending with E=mc2.

Knowing there is a simple solution to the problem, must we go through all the machinations to arrive at it? I don’t think so. Just accept it as it is, at face value.

Victor Frankl said “In between a stimulus and response there is a space. That space is the freedom to choose our response…” This space must be traversed, but I believe that it is not always necessary to go through it; oftentimes we can simply acknowledge it and the suck that lies there and simply jump over. There is no need to pass through the space!

Consider this: The Wise Mind is elevated and unconcerned. It is aware of the noise of worry but does not attend to it, recognizing that to do so adds no value to the peace of the present moment.

So, how to get there… Always the trick isn’t it. In DBT there is a skill called Building Mastery. It’s not just about learning to play the piano or become a chess master, it is about incrementally building awareness of what is and being able to recall this state of mind (also know as Radical Acceptance) at will. I had mentioned my experience at the top of Loveland Pass a couple of years ago, where I felt so incredibly good and paid attention to not just the feeling but what created it. And I can recall that state of mind whenever I want. You can do the same, but start slowly. Find a way to create enjoyment out of even a mundane task, learning to pay attention to only what you are doing in the moment (One Mindfully) and notice that the distractions of intrusive thoughts are set aside. This is building mastery. The noise diminishes and even quiets completely.

Once you have done this some recognize that the same can be applied in any situation or state of mind. There is no need to stay mired in the muck and noise of your childish emotional mind.

I have to admit though, this isn’t some magical panacea. In fact, today my angst and ennui are close to the surface. I don’t have a lot to do today, my energy levels are pretty low, and I didn’t do a very good job decorating my daughter’s birthday cake. I used to be expert but now my hands shake, I don’t have the ingredients or equipment to “do it up” and so I accurately judge it as inadequate. However, it will taste very very good! Both are true, but what do I want to pay attention to? Recognizing the validity of both allows for a choice. I focus on that which is wanted (and true!) and the emotional judgment has nothing to grab hold of. It works, however imperfectly.

This is not complicated. It is simple but of course not easy, although “easy” is a matter of degree and a function of our judgment of what ought to be (rather than an acceptance of what is.) It just takes practice and a willingness to allow the reality of unwanted and unhelpful thoughts and emotions to exist but not pay attention to them.

With practice of the simple easy is achieved.

“Try”

Ah the words that prompt me lol. One of my students, when asked to confirm an appointment today replied “I’ll try.” Huh? What does that mean even?

I really dislike the word try. It’s so passive, utterly non-committal. It’s lazy. “Try? Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

Try is an abstraction. There is only do or do not. Look at all the ways we use it: “I’ll try to make it to the party” or “I don’t know, but I’ll try to get that done.” There are endless variations on the theme, but at their core they all have one thing in common: dishonesty, with corollaries disrespect, laziness, and fear.

Try is a throw-away word. It’s like wish; we all use it but it has no action attached to it. In fairness, there is an actionable try as in I will try to clear that high bar, but it’s still an abstraction. You run down the runway and leap at the bar with the intention of clearing it. You either do or you don’t. Try is like making the leap but with one foot anchored to the ground. “I tried” is vague; “I did not succeed in my attempt” is much more accurate.

Try only exists in the quantum world, where superposition creates both success and failure at the same time – the foot on the ground has not yet left the ground and so is in a state of “try.” It might or might not. But in our Newtonian existence there is no superposition there is only motion, the endless stream of probabilities leading to the point of wave function collapse and reality.

Erase the word try from your vocabulary, let your yes be yes and your no be no. Make a commitment one way or the other. Get off the fence. Pickets hurt when jammed up one’s arse.

More on “The Stories”

“I think about a million different things!” A common response (or excuse) when people are challenged by the counting mindfulness practice. Their minds are too busy thinking about too many things. Too many distractions, too much anxiety or depression, not enough time or money. The thoughts are legion…

As I thought about this seemingly insurmountable problem it occurred to me that no, there are not a million things you think about, there are only a handful – the rest are details, facets of the jewel that is anxiety or whatever.

Try it: notice what you’re thinking about right now, the undercurrents of distraction or judgment that derail your capability to move forward. One of mine in the moment is this nagging discomfort of my neck not being quite right and the perceived need to schedule an appointment with my dear chiropractor Jill. Which I just did, after confirming a therapy session. Always something else to do other than what is right in front of us. Now that I made my appointment I notice where my thoughts go, or try to. There is that one place they are drawn to, an emotional gravitation source that nags the hell out of me and I can’t seem to shake.

So I get up to go smoke and ponder but get distracted by my yard and how the new grass is growing, then get a fresh cup of coffee and wipe down the kitchen island. Okay, now I’m back and no new information has been gained. Distracted and undisciplined. I don’t think this is uncommon but maybe it’s just me…

Back to the subject of the moment: what are those root thoughts that cause so much distraction? When I ask my students what they are thinking and feeling in the moment the usual response is “I don’t know.” Of course this is quite prompting so I don’t accept it and press a bit. More often than not some insight is gained when they work just a bit to be willing to let words out of their heads, to be willing to sound “stupid” or to be vulnerable, verbalizing maybe for the first time their thoughts and feelings. This is the beginning of real learning for them – it was for me anyway. And what they (and I) discover is that there are just a few things that command attention.

Fear is the primary driver of the multitude of thoughts: fear of inadequacy, fear of failure (or success), fear of not having enough money or time or the limitations of their current circumstances. Insecurity in the basics of life, or at least perceived insecurity. Ah, perceptions… the need for certainty when there is so little that is certain. Actually, nothing is certain until it happens of course, there are only probabilities, and our previous actions are by and large the primary determiners of those probabilities. The same holds true with our thoughts and emotions; they feed upon themselves and grow deep roots. It is those roots that I’m talking about, those deep recesses of our minds that are so subtly noisy. This is why Weaponized Mindfulness came into being and why it is difficult at first; we are going against the momentum of the energy of our pattern of thinking and feeling and acting (or not.)

As you learn to quiet your mind and control your attention you increase your ability to notice the nature of your thoughts and emotions and can either turn towards them for examination or turn away. “Nothing to see here folks, move along!” Literally. Those same old stories have nothing new to teach us but until some capability to control attention is developed the shouting distracts us. And it’s all the same stuff mostly. Time, money, relationships, judgments.

Recognize that you see things as you are not necessarily as they are. Consider a different point of view, even turning to gratitude for what you have, what you can do. Practice telling your mind what to think rather than the other way around. This is the root of freedom.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have wanted to explore this idea for a long time. I keep talking about it in various ways but whenever I have tried to tackle the subject I hit a wall. Hard. But I’m feeling bold these days, having confronted many of my own stories, so what the heck, I’ll give it a go.

Any examination of our internal dialogue has to begin with understanding that a pattern exists. As I have said before this pattern begins even before birth; it’s in our genes and our unconscious memory. It is the pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to information that over time becomes a set of filters for further interpretation and meaning. We experience life as “we are”, having little or no awareness of the distortions that exist.

The following example is not terribly deep but it illustrates the “story”, the emotional response and judgment of information:

Last Sunday Saber and I went for a long ride on the motorcycle. It is an activity that we do together; I “drive” and Saber is my passenger. I love riding my motorcycle. I see it as a moving meditation – I have to pay full attention to what I’m doing, but that also includes being aware of the scenery around me. I noticed that Saber had her phone out; I can feel her hands in a certain way in the small of my back. I felt irritated, thinking that she is more interested in her stupid phone than what we were doing together. She’s always staring at her phone, she’s not even really “here” but connected to some bullshit that her device is feeding her – she’s such a slave to the device. She has no sense of awareness or presence in the moment. Why bother if she’s just going to stare at her phone all the time. All. The. Time. She doesn’t care, I don’t matter, it’s always like this.

Such judgment. And really helpful and wanted emotions, right? But what was the information, the facts? Yes, we were out on the motorcycle on a beautiful day. She was doing something on her phone while we were riding. She does this frequently, but not constantly. Saber likes playing Sudoku on her phone or iPad as it is relaxing. She does this frequently. All facts. It is the story that is the problem, my interpretation and meaning that my pattern colors the facts with, the judgment…

We talked about this the other day and had an actual conversation about it without any accusations or defensiveness and I learned something. So did she. Deeper understanding of each other was gained because we focused on the dialectic of the facts and the emotional responses to them. I also explained to her that I was aware of my emotions and judgments but didn’t pay attention to them as that attention would diminish my enjoyment of the ride, and the emotions quickly passed. I knew my judgments, no matter how “right” were only causing an unwanted and unhelpful state of mind, so I chose to ignore them.

Awareness of our emotions and the stories that inform them leads to understanding, and understanding brings authority. The authority is exercised by ignoring those emotions, those stories, and now we are free of the control of them. It doesn’t mean that the emotions are invalid, they just aren’t helpful and only serve to reinforce the judgments that create them.

Not a bad start to tackling the subject. What stories are your mind trying to sell you? What are the facts versus the fiction, the truth versus the propaganda? Follow the model and see if you too can’t gain some authority.

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